Nestlé haunted by baby milk spectre

A food scare sweeping Europe has dredged up a past Nestlé would no doubt prefer remained forgotten, calling to mind the widespread boycott of the food giant in the early '80s.

Italian police have been seizing baby milk produced by the company after it emerged some of the cartons have become contaminated with ink from their packaging.

Traces of the printing chemical isopropyl thioxanthone (ITX) have been found in Nestlé’s liquid baby milk with an expiry date of September 2006.

The action of the authorities and Nestlé’s response has sparked a war of words, with company bosses accusing Italy of over reaction and exaggeration while offended Italian ministers claim the multinational is arrogant and demand an apology.

While Nestlé has dismissed the matter as a ‘storm in a teacup’ and has recalled 2 million litres of the milk from shelves in France, Spain, Greece and Portugal as well as Italy, the Italian police have begun seizing some 30 million litres of the product.

Though the Swiss-based food company has been quick to play down the scare, it is a PR nightmare for the company which was portrayed in a bad light by activists in the late ’70s and early ’80s, angered by its promotion of baby milk over breast feeding in parts of developing world where clean water to make up the powdered milk was often scarce.

The company has received a mixed response from environmentalists for its recent forays into ethical industry, having released its own brand of FairTrade coffee and compostable plastic packaging for some of its chocolate selections.

While many have welcomed the changes, others have accused it of tokenism or worse.

Nestlé has denied the ITX contamination poses any health risk and this line has been broadly followed by the European Food Safety Authority which says the chemical is not regulated but it is not authorised for use in food.

In a public statement the company said: “Nestlé is confident that this chemical substance is not harmful to the health of your children, but as a precaution we have recalled infant milk products.

“The production method has already been changed to avoid any future risk of ITX finding its way into food products.”

By Sam Bond

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie